Latest update: May 2nd, 2013
Is the “right of return” as a condition for making peace still in the small print? I don’t see that anyone else has asked that rather important question. Presumably it is still there. Consequently, what is in fact a suicidal offer to Israel is made, by selective reporting, to make it sound like an attractive offer. But if the demand for a massive immigration of hostile Palestinians is indeed dropped that in fact is the real news. Of course, the P.A. would passionately denounce such a step and since it has said nothing on the point one might assume that this demand still stands.
Then there are the citizens of these Arab countries—stirred up by Islamists and radical nationalists–who would seek to overthrow them if they believed their rulers were going to make peace with Israel. And there has been no hint from these regimes before and no statements now back home in Arabic to indicate any dramatic change of heart.
This supposed new plan, then, is a bluff. None of the above points have been explained in the Western media. Suddenly, we are to believe, for example, that the Muslim Brotherhood has turned dovish! (Well, of course, because the U.S. establishment has been arguing they were already dovish).
That doesn’t mean it is a bad thing as a sign of the times. I believe that the Arab states of the Persian Gulf would like to see the Arab-Israeli conflict decline and even end. Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates no longer profit from this battle. They are frightened of Iran and revolutionary Islamists, and the Shia Muslim challenge in general. Such governments view Israel as a positive strategic factor given these real and big threats. You might add Algeria, Morocco, and Jordan to the list of moderates. Iraq doesn’t care anymore, while the Kurds in Iraq and Syria are almost pro-Israel.
And if these countries feel that saying or pretending to agree that peace with Israel is a good thing for their image in the West that is positive also. (Unfortunately, though, they know how easily they can get away with double talk).
But if you factor in the Islamist-ruled places—Egypt, the Gaza Strip, Lebanon, Tunisia, and soon Syria—into the equation the picture looks different. And if you add public opinion and the efforts of revolutionary Islamists who would denounce any such deal as treason things look totally different.
If even Saudi Arabia were to make peace with Israel what would happen internally? There would be riots, revolts, new manifestations of the currents represented by Osama bin Ladin, an escalated subversion from Iran. Of course, the monarchy knows this very well.
On top of that, remember that these governments know that they cannot depend on the United States to get them out of a jam in the face of their rivals and enemies. Indeed, many of them believe—with real reasons–that the Obama Administration is helping their enemies.
In other words, to speak in English in Washington to make the Americans happy is one thing; to do things in practice is something else entirely. This supposed initiative, then, will not go anywhere.
It is, however, interesting to compare this development with the total refusal of Arab states to make such a gesture when Obama asked them to do so back in 2009. Is the change due to the relative moderates’ greater fear of Islamist overthrow? Of Iran getting nuclear weapons? A response to Obama’s reelection? Of the radical, pro-Islamist forces trying to lull America and the West into an even deeper sleep so that they think more Sharia states will not make for more radical regimes?
One can almost hear the radicals’ reasoning: We have to keep the Americans at bay until we consolidate power at home and we have to keep the Americans handing over billions of dollars to finance the fundamental transformations we intend to make.
What it does show once again, however, is that the strategic picture in the region has changed dramatically. The Arab-Israeli conflict is a minor issue compared to the Islamist threat at home and from neighbors, the Iranian threat abroad, and the Shia challenge to these predominantly Sunni Muslim, conservative or nationalist, monarchical or dictatorial regimes.
About the Author: Professor Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. See the GLORIA/MERIA site at www.gloria-center.org.
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